USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Holidays’
Folk Beliefs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Fruits of the New Year

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (CS) and I (ZM).

ZM: Okay so, when I was at your house, you have grapes? over the…

CS: Mhm

ZM: What are those about?

CS: So um, it’s like a, I think it’s an Asian thing, it might just be a Filipino thing, but it’s like um…At the beginning of every year, fruits are like symbols of like Mother Mary and her bearing the fruit of Jesus. So, it’s sort of to bring good luck. So, you always have like before the new year comes in, in every, like, living space, you have to have a bowl of twelve fruits. So, in the kitchen, in the living room, you have to have a big bowl of twelve fruits. Twelve different fruits.

ZM: Why twelve?

CS: Each month of the year.

ZM: Okay.

CS: And then above each entry into a room you have to do twelve grapes to symbolize like the same thing. So like, it’s supposed to bring you like good wealth and good luck into the new year and it’s like a symbol of Mother Mary and like how she was blessed because she was gifted with like the fruit of the womb of Jesus or whatever.

ZM: That’s cool.

CS: Yeah. So my mom always has to go out and buy like twelve different fruits. It’s a struggle.

ZM: Yeah, how do you get twelve different fruits.

CS: We have grapefruits in the backyard, lemons in the backyard. Sometimes if she can’t find more, she cheats and she gets avocados. (laughs) It’s always like melons, like she’ll get a watermelon, a cantaloupe, and a honeydew. And then like, apples, peaches, and then the ones in our backyard, and then like, if she’s really tryin’ it she’ll like get a lime and a lemon.

ZM: Do you leave the fruit up all year?

CS: Yes! And it gets DIsgusting. Absolutely gross. Like one time, the grapes started falling on the one over, like going outside to the patio thing, like, the atrium, back there. We have one over there, and I was like “The grapes are falling. Like, you need to fix it.” My mom grabbed saran wrap, and then she like (laughs) she like made a saran wrap bag and then pinned it there and then when I was taking them down towards like… You usually change everything towards like, Thanksgiving/Christmas. So you don’t do it like right before the new year. You like start preparing for the new year around like, after Thanksgiving, like before Christmas. As we were changing them, I took down the bag and it’s like MOLDY, cause like usually they’re just out in the air. So it’s like, they just turn into raisins, but like this one had a bag because she was keeping all of the ones that fell and it was literally wet and moldy and it was like green and white mold, and I almost vomited, and I was like “This needs to never happen again.” Yeah you keep it the WHOLE year. If it falls down you HAVE to keep it up there somehow.


Context:Over the weekend I visited CS at her home and noticed fruit hanging from the doorways. A few days later I asked her about them and this conversation was recorded then.


Background: The performer is a sophomore at the University of Southern California. She is first generation American and her parents came from the Philippines. They are Roman Catholic.


Analysis:I thought this was a very interesting tradition. I have heard of fruit being a sign of fertility, but mostly in spring, but this tradition takes place around the new year.




Ethiopian Apologies

Context & Analysis

The subject and I exchanged stories of our family’s traditions while sitting in a class discussion. She mentioned that she and her family were from Ethiopia, so I asked her if she knew of any unique Ethiopian traditions that westerners might not be familiar with. She described to me a traditional form of apology used by Ethiopians to express deep regret. The gesture is interesting because despite having ancient roots, a member of the younger generation is still intimately familiar with the practice.

Main Piece

“Basically, when you’re sorry or when your parent wants you to apologize to them, you have to kiss their knees. You just like bend down and kiss their knees. It goes all the way up to adulthood—it’s kind of more ritualistic when it’s an adult, like when you’re sorry you, like, kiss your parent’s knees. Or if you wronged your friend or something and you’re really, really sorry and you want to express, like, the deepest, deepest regret and like apologeticness? I don’t know if that’s a word, but yea.”

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Holiday tradition

The following was recorded from a conversation I had on the phone with my mother, marked JS. She described to me a few holiday traditions as well as rituals she did throughout her childhood. Below is one of the rituals.


JS: “We always used to leave our shoe outside on St. Nicholas Day which falls on December 6th. The idea is that he will come by and fill the shoe with treats. Sounds kinda weird, I know…but it always got the family in the Christmas spirit pretty early.”

CS: “Interesting, and you did this every year?”

JS: “Yeah, every year. My mom was way more into it than us kids were.”

CS: “Is there a reason you didn’t continue this tradition with me?”

JS: “I guess I decided it wasn’t as practical as just waiting till the 25th. Gave me more work to do too. I don’t know, by then the tradition was less thought of.”



A phone call conversation with my mom, JS, discussing rituals she did throughout her childhood around the time of the holidays.


JS currently resides in Laguna Beach, California but was previously raised in Minnesota.



I find this ritual interesting because it reflects the values my grandmother set for her family when it came to Christmas time. It is interesting that she decided to take a more unique path and doing a special ritual instead of the traditional and common Christmas traditions. What’s even more interesting is that this ritual didn’t continue into my mom’s adulthood and raising me. Instead, we do the very common Christmas and activities, and in fact, this was the first I had ever heard of this ritual. It is an interesting component of folklore to see how some of it sticks and is viewed with such importance in one’s life while others are simply forgotten over time.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Nowruz – Jumping over Fire

The following informant is a 22-year-old Persian-American women from Southern California. In this account she is describing a tradition that is done before Persian New Year (Nowruz). This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as S and I am identified as K:

S: For Persian New Year, what you do like the Wednesday before, is you jump over fire. The point is to basically like ward off the bad vibes of the past, and like my parents told me that if I ever don’t jump over the fire then, like you don’t actually go into the New Year with bad vibes, but like the bad vibes are going to be more prominent. So, I will always try to go to whoever’s house to jump over fire, because you know, bad vibes.

K: So do you normally go to your family’s house?

S: Yeah or like, this year I jumped over a candle with my friend, still works

K: Do all Persians partake in this tradition, or is it a specific to Persian-Americans

S: Yeah, all Persians do it, or like 70… 80… like 90%

K: Do you have to do it in a group or can you do it by yourself?

S: No, you can do it by yourself, but it’s just more fun to do it with your family. So that you can jump with someone else, so you are both leaving bad vibes in the past, that is like what typically happens.

K: What does it mean to you, to partake in the tradition?


S: Um, I don’t really believe that you actually leave bad vibes back in that sense, like you don’t have to jump over fire to get rid of the bad vibes of the past year. But I think it is a fun way of keeping a tradition, a cultural tradition alive. So, to me it’s just a fun cultural activity, and even though a lot of Persians don’t live in Iran, they still do it.


This conversation took place at a café one evening. I was visiting the informant at USD, and after providing a different collection of folklore, she continued on to talk about this tradition. The conversation was recorded and transcribed


I think it is a wonderful tradition. As the informant describes you don’t actually have to believe in its ability to ward off, as she says, “bad vibes” in order to participate. Any Persian can participate anywhere in the world, but still feel connected to one another.



Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (EC) and I (ZM).

EC: Stuff that we would do is we would eat goulash on holidays. Which is like a German stew.

ZM: What’s in it?

EC: Umm… It’s just basically a stew I guess. Like vegetables and some form of meat. I feel like…it was probably just like beef or something normal like that, but like it has a German name so…

ZM: Who makes the goulash?

EC: My aunt does. So… yeah.

ZM: She’s the one that was in the military?

EC: Umm my uncle by marriage was in the military and then she is my like blood aunt. My dad’s sister.


Context: This is from a conversation I started with EC about her German traditions.


Background: EC is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California. She is of German descent. She was born and raised in Sacramento. Most of her German traditions were not passed down, rather influenced by aunt’s family who lived on a military base in Germany.


Analysis:I thought it was interesting that even though EC is “significantly German heritage-wise,” the only German traditions practiced by her family are not due to their lineage rather a modern-day influence.




Rituals, festivals, holidays

August 15th

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (HH) and I (ZM).

ZM: Are there any other large Chinese holidays that you don’t really see celebrated…?

HH: Um we also celebrate, um August 15th. That’s Lunar New Year Calendar. Um Lunar Year Calendar. Um it’s to celebrate… I…um it’s the, the Mooncake Festival. That’s the English name.

ZM: Mooncake?

HH: Yeah. We eat mooncakes during that time to signify the round shape of the moon, that’s when it’s supposed to be the roundest, that month. And um… There’s a story behind it, you have to um google it. It’s about um these ancient, this ancient couple. I learned it in my Chinese class when…in high school, but I forget. It’s a love story. And we just watch the moon and eat mooncakes um and we um we go to relative’s house to exchange um boxes of mooncakes. Yeah.

ZM: And the mooncakes are like the store mooncakes, right? Or are they like, a different…?

HH: Store mooncakes yeah. Rarely people uh make it themselves. Um yeah they come in squares and then there’s like eggs…um egg yolks inside. They’re pretty good. You should try them.

ZM: But not like…They’re not like the Hostess like moon pies…Are they different? What are the moon… Like can you… What are the mooncakes? Are they the like chocolate covered like…

HH: NOoOo they’re not chocolate. They’re not that. (laughs) They’re a lot more traditional you’re gonna have to search it up. Um it comes in squares and there’s egg yolks inside and then like…I don’t know how to describe it…

ZM: Is it sweet?

HH: Umm… Yeah. It depends on what flavor it is. It comes in different flavors.

ZM: Okay, what are the different flavors?

HH: Like, red beans, and some other nuts. (laughs) I don’t… A lot of these things are meant to be said in Chinese.


Context: This is from a conversation I started with HH about her Chinese culture.


Background: HH was born in China and raised in Oakland, CA. Both of her parents are Chinese, and they speak limited English. She is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California.


Analysis: This holiday in particular was difficult for HH to explain because it is often discussed in Chinese and the translation is not always clear. I think my confusion with the American Moon Pies also confused me. If I had never heard of a Moon Pie there would have been less confusion about the Chinese mooncakes.



Aerosols, C4, and High-Powered Rifles

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (EC) and I (ZM).

ZM: Do you do anything, like special, around Christmas? Other than like the goulash?

EC: Not really. We have a lot of like very family specific traditions, um, because my grandparents owned like a huge ranch in Napa and had like a winery and everything. And so like, that has been like in the family for generations and so like a lot of our holiday tradition’s centered around like going up to the house and like being rednecks in general.

ZM: What do you do?

EC: Um like, on Easter, we would like blow things up. So like, for Easter I might get some aerosol paint cans and then some like C4 explosive and put them together and then shoot it with a high powered rifle just to see how big of a fireball I can make.

ZM: (laughs) And that’s just… because they live on a ranch?

EC: That’s just our family. Yeah.

ZM: Do you go every year and like blow stuff up? Is that like a…

EC: Yeah. It actually burned down, so like not in the last year with this recent fires, but yeah um before that we would go for like every holiday, like Fourth of July, Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving, other random stuff.

ZM: And do you blow stuff up every holiday?

EC: Basically. Every holiday involves shooting guns in our family.


Context: This is from a conversation I started with EC originally about her German traditions.


Background: EC is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California. She is of German descent.


Analysis: I thought it was ironic that EC and her family always try to create the biggest fireballs that they can on the ranch and it ended up burning down, but the two events were completely unrelated. The actual act seemed unrelated to the variety of holidays it is performed on. The explosions seem more like something they do when they’re together and they just happen to be together on those holidays.


Rituals, festivals, holidays

Niu Lang Zhi Nu


This folktale is titled Niu Lang Zhi Nu and is focused on a man who is a poor, ordinary cow herder and a woman who is a daughter of a goddess. In the story the man and the woman fall in love but their love is forbidden because of their different social statues. To prevent their relationship the woman’s father banishes both to opposites sides of the planet. However the bugs feel pity for the lovers and once every year build a bridge across the planet so they can meet. The day they meet every year is considered the origin of Chinese Valentine’s Day.

Background & Context:

This story was collected in a casual lunch setting. The informant was a 21 year old junior at USC. She is ethnically Chinese but has grown up in New York her entire life. The way she found about this folktale was by watching a popular Chinese drama from several years ago, that is a remake of the tale with the same name.

Final Thoughts:

My thoughts on this tale is that it is tragic and romantic origin story for the Chinese Valentine’s Day. This tale is also similar to other East Asian folktales I have collected. What I also found interesting is how the informant originally heard about the folktale through mass media. I think it is unique and good how the media is teaching the newer generation of old traditional folktales that in the past were passed down through other methods.


For another version of this piece of folklore, see the Chinese television series Niu Lang Zhi Nu.

Folk Beliefs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Persian New Year


Persian New Year is an important holiday in Persian culture. Unlike American New Years which happens always on January 1st Persian New Years takes place in mid March. A tradition during Persian New Years is jumping over a bonfire. Jumping over the bonfire is a symbolic ritual. By jumping over the bonfire you are giving away bad vibes from the previous year to the fire, while the fire is giving you good vibes to start off the New Year.

Background & Context:

My informant is Persian-American and she has grown in Southern California. She is currently a senior at USC. I collected this piece of folklore in a casual setting one evening. She takes part in Persian New Years occasionally, she says that while the ritual of jumping over the bonfire holds symbolic meaning many including herself do the ritual for fun and reminicines from their childhood.

Final Thoughts:

I have slightly more information on this tradition as I have taken part in it before with a different Persian-American friend although I am not Persian. When I took part in this ritual I did not hear about any of the symbolic meaning and only found out collecting this ritual from my informant. This New Years tradition is similar to other traditions as New Years in other cultures based on having a new start and leaving behind negative aspects of the past year. Fire is also something that is prominent in other cultures in getting rid of negative energy. Overall this ritual is similar to other traditions around the world.


Rituals, festivals, holidays

Easter Eggs with Satire

Informant Info: The informant is an 18-year-old from St. Louis, Missouri. She is currently a freshman studying Public Policy at USC.

Interview Transcript:

Interviewer: With Easter just passing, did you or your family celebrate it? If so, how?


Interviewee: Sooooo…. We are not religious, but we still celebrate Easter. What we do is we dye Easter eggs AND then the Easter bunny would hide them in our yard on Saturday. On Easter, we would wake up and have the good ol’ traditional Easter egg hunt. And since we weren’t religious, my parents would sorta make jokes out of it. My mom grew up Catholic, so sometimes she would we toss in prank items, like Jesus band aids. We would then dinner 2pm, which I always thought was early, but hey… home cooked food!



Despite not being religious, the informant’s family still celebrates a typical American Easter, primarily in terms of the Easter Eggs. Across the globe, eggs are extremely important symbols of spring, regrowth, and birth. Once again, family bonding still appears to be the most important factor.